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Ultimately, Ross wasn’t able to leave much of a mark. She lost reelection in 1922. She later served as a school trustee, and died in 1945.
Relatively few women have followed in Ross’s footsteps.
One is Olivia Butti, who at 82 is Edmonton’s oldest surviving councillor. She served from 1974 to 1986.
In an interview, Butti said she became interested in politics after founding the community league in her neighbourhood, Rosslyn. The two issues that first interested her were public safety and transportation — particularly a troublesome railway crossing near her community.
Butti initially didn’t expect to win her first race — she ran to generate name recognition ahead of a run the following election, by which time her kids would be out of school. Instead, she was elected, which forced her to juggle council responsibilities with raising a family. “This is why I think a lot of women don’t run,” she said.
Eventually Butti served on the council that launched the first LRT line. She was on the police commission and played a role in establishing a Crime Stoppers program.
“It’s a very gratifying experience, knowing you can do something to make it a better place,” she said.
O’Neill hopes by telling the stories of people like Ross and Butti, other women will be encouraged to run for council. She said the aim is to produce a document for the city that will chart the history of women on council and identify barriers to gender parity — with a special focus on women from communities that have never been elected to council.
“We’re a city of more than one million people and representation matters,” she said. “When you have a council that looks like the city you’re representing, you’re going to have better decisions, you’re going to have better outcomes.”
Alberta’s next municipal elections are scheduled for Oct. 18, 2021.